Carmen, Choreographers: Yuh Egami, Ricky Song-wei Hu; Dancers: Fei-fei Ye and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers
Photo: Tony Luk
Carmen and More
Hong Kong Ballet’s last offering of the 2016/2017 season was a three-part program entitled Carmen and More. This was also the last program under the current artistic director Madeleine Onne who will be leaving after this season to join the Houston Ballet Academy.
Let’s start off with Carmen, the most publicized première of this program. It’s choreographed by two of the company’s dancers – Yuh Egami and Ricky Hu. They have made good progress in the past few years as ‘resident choreographers’, and their best work to date was Bolero two years ago. This production of Carmen has a modern twist, being set in a garment fabric factory. Carmen’s former lover José poignantly tells the story in a series of flashback as he revisits the now abandoned factory.
The ballet’s novelty is quite attractive at first, but the drama becomes too melodramatic towards the end leading to Carmen’s murder. The ending is a bit clichéd, with Carmen lifted on high after her death. The ensemble dances for the factory workers are quite vivid, and the choreography for the duets are effective. The first cast was excellent. Ye Feifei was sexy and alluring in the title role. Liang Jing was engrossing as the old-age José. Li Jiabo’s obsession with Carmen and jealousy as the young José was powerfully expressed. And Lucas Jerkander was handsome and irresistible as the factory owner with whom Carmen falls in love.
This ballet was preceded by a revival of a 2014 ballet by Finnish choreographer Jorna Elo entitled Shape of Glow. Set to Mozart and Beethoven, this work was created for Hong Kong Ballet. It’s a big ensemble work designed to show off the strength of the company instead of individual soloists. It’s set in darkness, and the 16 dancers are attired in identical tights colored black and navy blue.
Elo’s choreographic style is derivative of William Forsythe and is slightly dated now. The first movement introduces the whole cast, while the second consists of three duets. The final third movement, however, lacks structure and focus and is too diffuse to make a strong impact. Shen Jie and Luis Cabrera were particularly dazzling among the male dancers. And Li Jiabo and Liu Miaomiao stood out among the three duet couples.
The program was completed by Hong Kong premières of two Jiří Kylián ballets in the final third part that were linked by a hilarious video to facilitate scene changes. Though not to my taste, Kylian is admittedly one of the most important European choreographers today. Both ballets are set to music by Mozart.
Sechs Tanze, a 1986 Kylián work, is comic. Six seemingly nonsensical acts are harmless good fun, but the ballet, which ends with a snowfall, seems trivial. The dancers are all dressed in 19th century European court costumes and wear wigs.
Far better is Kylián’s 1991 work Petite Mort which is in the repertory of many ballet companies worldwide. This is by far the best crafted work of the whole evening. Kylián undeniably has a theatrical savvy and is a masterly choreographer. According to the house program, the theme of this work is that life is short and death is never far away. The first section sees the male dancers brandishing their swords, and the women are later seen wearing black colored false crinoline dresses. A huge fabric is used to create scene changes. Three moving duets end the piece solemnly.
The company excelled in this ballet. Jin Yao and Wei Wei, Lucas Jerkander and Ye Feifei were all superb in the duets. Saturday night’s performance also ended with a moving tribute onstage to the outgoing director Madeleine Onne from the whole company. Under her leadership, the company has certainly grown in international reputation.
Giselle; Artistic Director: Feng Ying; Photo provided by The National Ballet of China
The National Ballet of China returned to Hong Kong in early June after a long absence of six years. The first program was a new production of the classic Giselle by the current director Feng Ying. The choreographic text is faithful to the traditional choreography in this fine production. The ending however is too prolonged.
National Ballet’s female corps de ballet is uniform and excellent as in the past. In the title role was Wang Qimin. She was fragile as the peasant Giselle, and almost weightless as a Wili. Her partner was Ma Xiodong, a handsome and noble principal. He was superb as her lover in terms of acting, as well as technically dazzling. His entrechats especially were breathtaking. Qiu Yunting danced strongly as the Queen of the Wilis.
Local audiences do not see enough of Mainland ballet companies. Hopefully, the excellent National Ballet can return to tour Hong Kong more frequently.
started reviewing dance in 1997. He has contributed to many publications including The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal Asia, Hong Kong Economic Journal, Time Out Hong Kong, Moscow Times, Ballet Review (New York) and Ballet 2000 (Italy).
Carmen and More
Choreographer: Jorma Elo, Yuh Egami and Ricky Song-Wei Hu, Jiří Kylián
Performance: 26 May 2017 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Giselle by The National Ballet of China
Director and Artistic Director: Feng Ying
Performance: 3 June 2017 15:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre